Tag Archives migrant

Migration Series | “Us Aymara have no borders”: Differentiated mobilities in the Chilean borderlands

Migration Series | “Us Aymara have no borders”: Differentiated mobilities in the Chilean borderlands

In Chile, recent initiatives to manage migration have been based on nation-state and sedentary imaginaries. These approaches to migration are challenged by the traditionally mobile and trans-national lives of the ...

Migration Series | From caminantes to community builders: how migrants in Ecuador support each other in their journeys

Migration Series | From caminantes to community builders: how migrants in Ecuador support each other in their journeys

With the deep political and socio-economic crisis, a large number of Venezuelans have fled to other countries, including Ecuador. Many people have journeyed on foot, earning them the name caminantes ...

#AbolishFrontex: On World Refugee Day, we call on the EU to end its border regime

More than 700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone while attempting to reach Europe. This article shows how EU border agency Frontex has been complicit in the suffering and deaths of many thousands of refugees and why it cannot be allowed to continue doing so. Today, on World Refugee Day, through the international campaign #AbolishFrontex we urge the EU to end its border regime.

Photo: Brussels Frontex Office. Abolish Frontex.

More than 700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of this year while attempting to reach Europe, bringing the total number of refugees and migrants who have died due to the restrictive policies of ‘Fortress Europe’ since 1993 to 44,764. This is an amount equal to the inhabitants of a small town – and the real number is likely to be much higher. These were people who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea on boats, were shot at border crossings, or who lost their lives after being deported to unsafe places. They were avoidable deaths, deaths that resulted from choices made by bureaucrats, by politicians – and by members of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex.

The European Agency of Shame

What started as a small agency in Poland has ever since become one of the EU’s biggest. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is now a key actor in enforcing the EU’s border regime. It does so by running border control operations throughout the Mediterranean region and Balkan countries, coordinating and enabling deportations, and cooperating with member states as well as third countries to increase border controls. Frontex’s border guards and other employees have reportedly and repeatedly been directly and indirectly involved in illegal pushbacks, effectively preventing refugees from making use of their right to claim asylum, and are complicit in the commitment of violence against migrants at borders and during deportations. Frontex also cooperates with and delivers trainings to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, responsible for multiple pullbacks into Libya, where migrants are held in “concentration camp-like conditions”.

And its influence and power are increasing. The budget of Frontex has grown by over 7,560% since 2005, with €5.6 billion being reserved for the agency from 2021-2027 by the European Commission. Thanks to this, it has been able to recruit an army of border guards who can own and use handguns and aims to have 10,000 guards by 2027.

In response to these developments and their potential ramifications, on 9 June this year, an international coalition consisting of more than 80 groups and organisations launched the campaign #AbolishFrontex to end the EU border regime, with direct actions across eight countries in Europe and North Africa. They presented the following list of demands:

  • Abolish Frontex
  • Regularise migrants
  • Stop all deportations
  • End detention
  • Stop the militarisation of borders (and the military-industrial complex)
  • Stop the surveillance of people on the move
  • Empower solidarity
  • Stop the EU’s role in forcing people to move
  • Freedom of movement for all – end the EU border regime

Locating the root cause of inhumane border regimes

Crucially, to stop Frontex, the EU needs to stop funding it. Why? Because the cycle of violence is perpetuated as long as support for Frontex continues. But that also means changing the EU’s approach toward migration. The ever-expanding budget of Frontex symbolises the EU’s reliance on deterrence, repression, and externalisation to deal with populations it has marked as unwanted. The EU member states are fortifying Europe’s land, sea, and virtual borders instead of developing a much-needed politics that would create safe migration channels. Furthermore, by framing migration as a security issue that needs a securitised response, they avoid addressing their own involvement in the root causes of why people have to move in the first place.

One of these causes is found in the spending on arms, which totalled USD 378 billion in Europe and almost USD 2 trillion (USD 2,000,000,000,000 – an amount so big it can hardly be read) globally in 2020. Arms trade fuels wars around the planet, benefiting and lobbied for by the same companies that are also profiting from the increased militarisation of borders. The investigative research ‘Frontex Files’ has shown that the EU agency is among the institutions targeted heavily by lobbyists from the border industrial complex. This cycle – arms companies in rich countries producing weapons that displace people in poorer countries and subsequently producing security equipment that keeps the displaced people out of these very same rich countries – perpetuates violence.

Other root causes, of course, include the climate crisis, also largely caused by rich countries, unequal trade policies that increase poverty worldwide, and repercussions of (neo-)colonialism. To put it simply, Europe is rich because it exploits other parts of the world, and other parts of the world are unsafe because Europe makes them so. Abolishing Frontex would not be a gesture of benevolence, it would mean taking responsibility for the destruction of people’s homes and lives the EU is causing elsewhere. The least the EU can do is to provide shelter to those displaced.

Beyond Frontex and national security

Abolishing Frontex also means to challenge the idea that fortifying borders and blocking migration leads to increased security. This idea rests on a deliberate misunderstanding of the concept of safety and perpetuates racist and colonialist structures of power. As Arun Kundnani writes in his recent TNI publication ‘Abolish National Security’,

An abolitionist framework entails understanding that genuine security does not result from the elimination of threats but from the presence of collective well-being. It advocates building institutions that foster the social and ecological relationships needed to live dignified lives, rather than reactively identifying groups of people who are seen as threatening.

Turning Europe into a fortress cannot be the answer to the challenges of our time. Instead of enlarging Frontex, we need to tackle the root causes of the displacement of people and establish safe migration routes to Europe for those who need and those who want to move.

Let’s abolish Frontex and make death at sea history. Join the campaign: abolishfrontex.org.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Josephine Valeske

Josephine Valeske holds a MA degree in Development Studies from the ISS and a BA degree in Philosophy and Economics. She currently works for the research and advocacy organisation Transnational Institute in Amsterdam that supports the #AbolishFrontex campaign. She can be found on Twitter @jo_andolanjeevi.

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Positioning Academia | Who is a migrant? Choosing a human security approach to rehumanise migration

Positioning Academia | Who is a migrant? Choosing a human security approach to rehumanise migration

Contemporary policies and discourses on migration largely overlook human dynamics of migration and focus on migrants as a policy problem to be ‘dealt with’. A human security scope is a ...

The asylum procedure as a hope-generating machine

The asylum procedure as a hope-generating machine

Over the past few years, the European Union has used deterrence as its main strategy to prevent an influx of refugees, becoming more hard-handed as the number of refugees has ...

The Orphan Industrial Complex comes home to roost in America by Kristen Cheney and Karen Smith Rotabi

The recent removal of migrant children from their parents at the southern US border has caused great public outcry, but Kristen Cheney and Karen Smith Rotabi argue that it could become another incarnation of the Orphan Industrial Complex that glorifies ‘child rescue’ and the charitable commodification of children without parental care—one that actually produces orphans for a hungry adoption market through dubious legal means.

What is happening to migrant children is egregious and yet predictable: children separated from their families and moved hundreds of miles away to foster homes—by an adoption agency with ties to US Secretary of Education Betsy de Vos.

To those who are appalled by this move by the Trump administration, the situation is unconscionable and ‘not who we are’ as Americans (though there are numerous historical cases of intentional family separation by the state).

To those of us in children’s studies, however—and particularly those of us who study orphanhood and adoption—it was only a matter of time before the Trump family separation policy crossed paths with the Orphan Industrial Complex.

The Orphan Industrial Complex

The Orphan Industrial Complex (OIC) is the charitable commodification of children without parental care. It is driven by persistent narratives of “orphan rescue” that not only commodify orphans and orphanhood itself but that frequently spurs the “production” of “orphans”, resulting in child exploitation and trafficking (Cheney and Ucembe forthcoming). The OIC includes such activities as fundraising for orphanages, orphanage volunteering, and international adoption.

The OIC has largely been operating internationally, driven by North American and European desires for children and/or experiences with orphans abroad (Cheney and Rotabi 2017). Now that we are seeing young children at the doorstep of the US, the next chapter in a long story of child abduction into adoption is currently being written—this time domestically.

Adoption scholars and children’s advocates have been speculating on social media that the plan is (and has likely been all along) that they move the young children far from their parents at the border, charge an absurd amount for fostering and/or reunification that the parents can’t pay—either because they just don’t have the money and/or are still in detention—then when they can’t pay, the authorities declare the children abandoned and available for adoption. This has happened before, and make no mistake, it is happening as we type. And it is perfectly “legal”, in that the courts are sanctioning these actions; indeed, they are enabling the stealing of children against the will of their parents.

Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, an adoption agency with ties to billionaire Education Secretary Betsy de Vos and a history of coercive adoptions, has placed approximately 80 children in foster care thousands of miles from the southern US border, where some of the parents are detained while other parents have already been deported to Central America. Bethany and other agencies have government contracts to provide so-called “foster care” while reunification strategies are sorted. We submit, why would a large-scale adoption agency be trusted with such a critical and essential task all those miles removed from the location where the child was separated from their parent(s)?

Tackle the enabling environment first

Because the courts are so often complicit in child stealing, it is difficult to actually talk of “illegal adoptions”. That is why Cheney told the UN HRC Council last year that using the law to battle “illegal adoptions” is not enough; we need to address the enabling environment that is undergirded by “child rescue” and “better life” narratives that justify helping ourselves to the children of the poor and desperate. These discourses are also what undergird the OIC, thus perpetuating such violence against children and families. As we know from previous experience, there are people out there who have no scruples about adopting the children separated from their detained and deported migrant parents—many of whom came to the US with their children to protect them from violence and instability at home—and in fact there are whole social movements dedicated to adoption.

Yet, a number of the families crossing the U.S. border are actually eligible to apply for asylum based on societal violence: asylum seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are over-represented in the recent influx. All three countries suffer notorious gang violence and other problems that rise to the definition of persecution when an individual or family is targeted. Ironically, US government policies have fueled poverty and violence underlying the requests for asylum from the region (Costantino, Rotabi and Rodman 2012). Gang violence is just one symptom that has, in turn, pushed some of the region’s most vulnerable people to immigrate northward for safety (Carlson and Gallagher 2015).

Rather than being welcomed at the border as asylum seekers, they are charged with a misdemeanor for illegal entry to the US. To make matters worse, there are credible stories of immigration agents coercing parents with threats of child adoption if they should file for their rights to seek refuge. As the U.S responds to asylum seekers and others with such a heavy and uncaring hand, Federal Judges are now weighing in: a recent court order requires the children affected and in foster care to be quickly reunited with their families. However, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fought the court order—and lost. Nonetheless, this mean-spirited delay of the court judgment being realized inevitably will prolong the waiting game which is a potential means of child abduction into adoption through the courts. All too often, when a challenge to separation finally comes to court, judges have ruled that a child has lived with a foster family for long enough that they have emotionally attached to the new family. On the basis of the best interests of the child, legal judgments favoring adoption rather than returning a child to their parents have prevailed. This has already happened in notorious cases of child abduction into US adoption from Guatemala (Rotabi and Bromfield 2017).

In the case of an organization like Bethany, they typically serve the very hungry adoption marketplace rather than facilitate parent-child. While Bethany can and should mobilize to change its case management model from adoption to reunification, the clock ticks on the family lives of vulnerable children.

The dark side of adoption

It may look like some of the children adjust well to their new homes and families, but let us tell you what is going to happen if we do not stop it: the older children will likely not adjust well to being ripped from their parents and told they have new families, so those adoptions are bound to “fail”, with kids running away, ending up cycling through multiple foster homes, or worse. For younger kids, the memories of their families and the harrowing journey they have made with them will likely fade over time as the children get adjusted to their new homes. But imagine how they will feel as they come of age and learn the true circumstances of their adoptions; that they were essentially stolen at the border from a parent(s) who carried them for thousands of treacherous miles seeking safety from the very violence instigated by the US. Older adoptees have been devasted to learn of such questionable reasons for their international adoptions, and it can lead to a dissolution of their relationships with their adoptive parents as well as incredible emotional difficulties that come with such a revelation: adoptees, for example, have high rates of depression and suicide.

Many adoptee advocates note that adult adoptees are often driven to learn more about their origins, as an integral part of their identities. In fact, origin tourism has become another facet of the OIC, marketizing adoptees’ need to search for their birth families (Dorow 2010, 78). Nonetheless, one of the strongest recommendations to come out of the International Forum on Intercountry Adoption and Global Surrogacy held at the ISS in 2014 was for preservation of records in adoption so that when the time comes for individual adoptees to search for their original families, they will have access to the vital information necessary.

If we cannot stop this from happening now, we need to make sure this injustice is well documented so that sooner or later, it can be righted, and these children can finally be reunited with their families.

Carlson, Elizabeth, and Anna Marie Gallagher. 2015. “Humanitarian Protection for Children Fleeing Gang-Based Violence in the Americas.” Journal on Immigration and Human Security 3(2), 129-158.
Cheney, Kristen E., and Karen Smith Rotabi. 2017. “Addicted to Orphans: How the Global Orphan Industrial Complex Jeopardizes Local Child Protection Systems.” In Conflict, Violence and Peace, edited by Christopher Harker and Kathrin Hörschelmann, 89-107. Singapore: Springer Singapore.
Cheney, Kristen, and Stephen Ucembe. forthcoming. “The Orphan Industrial Complex: the charitable commodification of children and its consequences for child protection.” In Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Intervention: Processes of Affective Commodification, edited by Kristen Cheney and Aviva Sinervo. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Costantino, Rosalin, Karen Smith Rotabi and Debra Rodman. 2012. Violence against women and asylum seeking: Global problems and local practices applied to Guatemalan women immigrating for safety. Advances in Social Work 13(2), 431-50. Available at http://journals.iupui.edu/index.php/advancesinsocialwork/article/viewFile/1974/2465.
Dorow, Sara. 2010. “Producing Kinship through the Marketplace of Transnational Adoption.” In Baby Markets: Money and the New Politics of Creating Families, edited by Michele B. Goodwin, 69-83. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rotabi, Karen Smith, and Nicole F. Bromfield. 2017. From Intercountry Adoption to Global Surrogacy:  A Human Rights History and New Fertility Frontiers. Abingdon: Routledge.

About the authors: 

Headshot 02 17.pngKristen Cheney is Associate Professor of Children and Youth Studies at ISS. She is author of Crying for Our Elders: African Orphanhood in the Age of HIV and AIDS and co-editor of the forthcoming volume, Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Intervention: Processes of Affective Commodification.

Headshot_Rotabi_CSUMB_Fall2017.jpgKaren Smith Rotabi is Professor and Chair of the Department of Social Work at California State University Monterey Bay. She is co-author of From Intercountry Adoption to Global Surrogacy: A Human Rights History and New Fertility Frontiers and co-editor of Intercountry Adoption: Policies, Practices and Outcomes.

Cheney and Rotabi co-organized the 2014 International Forum on Intercountry Adoption and Global Surrogacy at ISS.

Human security and migration in Europe: a realistic approach by Ali Bilgiç

Human security and migration in Europe: a realistic approach by Ali Bilgiç

Human security is not a moralistic utopia but a realistic approach to migration, which takes European citizens’ insecurities seriously by focusing on human security of migrants. It is now time ...